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The former F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Weapon System Program Manager took on a new dual leadership role Nov. 21 as commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division and assistant commander for Research and Engineering, Naval Air Systems Command.

Kansas native Rear Adm. Mark Darrah succeeds Rear Adm. Randy Mahr, who left NAWCAD to become deputy program executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office.

NAWCAD is the Navy’s principal research, development, test and evaluation, engineering and fleet support activity for naval aircraft, engines, avionics, aircraft support systems, and ship/shore/air operations.

“Along with our fleet customers, I have personally benefited from the world class capability that resides in NAWCAD and NAVAIR Engineering, both as a fleet operator and then as a program manager,” said Darrah in a written message to the NAWCAD workforce. “It is a privilege to be a part of the team.”

In his new position, Darrah leads a NAWCAD contingent of almost 20,000 military, civilian and contractor team members in Maryland, New Jersey and Florida. As assistant commander for NAVAIR Engineering he oversees and additional 11,000 employees conducting research and development on all Navy and Marine Corps aircraft.

Darrah’s operational fleet tours were with Electronic Attack Squadrons (VAQ) 137, 140, 136, Carrier Air Wing Five Strike Operations, and as the commanding officer of VAQ-142. Under his leadership, VAQ-142 completed successful combat deployments to Southwest Asia supporting operations Northern and Southern Watch and was awarded the Chief of Naval Operations Annual Safety "S" for 2001.

During these tours, he accumulated more than 3,200 flight hours and 603 carrier landings. He also served as commanding officer, Pacific Missile Range Facility, Barking Sands, Kauai; and was the F/A-18 and EA-18G program manager here at NAS Patuxent River from July 2007 to July 2011.

“Moving into the future, it is imperative that we build close working relationships with our customers and partners while being accountable for our products and services,” Darrah said. “We will also use the full capability of our diverse workforce to generate and implement emerging technologies rapidly through targeted fleet modification projects.”

Darrah returns to Pax River after serving at the F-35 Joint Program Office in Washington, D.C. Born in Shawnee Mission, Kan., Darrah graduated from Ottawa University in 1981 and George Mason University in 1994. He received his commission through the Aviation Officer Candidate Program and was designated a Naval Flight Officer in 1983.